Hemis High-Altitude National Park is the largest high-altitude reserve of India. Very close to Leh, in the area of Markha and Rumbak Valleys, the area in general is rocky and sparsely covered. The park comes under the district of Ladakh and represents the Trans-Himalayan ecosystem. The park was established in the year 1981 to preserve the dwindling population of wildlife in Ladakh region with an area of 600 sq km. The park has been earmarked as one of the snow leopard reserves under a central government project to conserve the species, its prey population, and fragile mountain habitat.
The conservation efforts in the Ladakh region are of recent origin. Apart from the park, the region also has one of the better-known Buddhist monasteries of Ladakh, the Hemis Gompa. Coupled with exotic wildlife, culture and art, and natural splendor, the Hemis High-Altitude National Park can make a perfect holiday destination.
The Hemis National Park is located in the Ladakh division
of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Situated at a distance of around 40 km southeast of Leh, it takes its name from the world famous Buddhist Gompa situated here. The National Park is situated at the bank of river Indus and includes the catchments areas of Markha, Sumdah, and Rumbak streams. The park extends from the latitude 33º38'-34º11' in the North to longitude 77º00'-77º44' in the East.
The climate of this region is one of the extremes with great variations and changes in the temperature at daily and seasonal levels. During the winters, the temperature goes down well below the normal at around -40ºC in the nights and near freezing point during the daytime. All the major rivers in the Ladakh region become frozen during this season. The annual rainfall is very low at around 160.5 mm of rain. Summer is best season to explore the region.
FLORA AND FAUNA
The vegetation in the Hemis High-Altitude National Park can be characterized as high-altitude desert with sparse grasslands and herbaceous vegetation on mountain slopes and in harmony with rest of Ladakh. In the lower valley of the park, one can find scrublands and patchy forests.
Dense mixed scrubs (5-10 m high) of buckthorn (Hippophae salicifolia), willows (Salix spp.), Myricaria elegans, and rose (Rosia webbiana) occur in patches on moist valley bottoms up to 3,500 m. About 20% of valley bottomland is covered with this scrub but it represents less than 10% of the total land area. Poplars (Populus spp.) are cultivated on moist valley bottoms up to 3,700 m. Some juniper (Juniperus macropoda) occurs on valley bottoms and slopes at 3,300-4,000 m, and is best developed in the catchments of the lower Khurnak Chu.
From 3,500 m to 4,000 m, this mixed scrub becomes progressively shorter (less than 5 m) and grades into almost pure H. salicifolia and H. rhamnoides on the valley bottoms, or pure Salix spp. in the case of some side valleys. Above 4,000 m, H. rhamnoides forms dense low (30 cm) thickets and Myricaria squamosa occurs as isolated plants. Scattered individuals of R. webbiana, Lonicera spp., Ephedra gerardiana and J. macropoda occur on mountain slopes up to 4,000 m. Caragana sp. occurs in patches on uplands at 4,300 m-5,000 m. Scrublands cover less than 5% of the total land area. Graminaceous and herbaceous plants form the main vegetation type, usually covering less than 15% of the total area. The dominant species include woundwort (Stachys tibetica), cinquefoils (Potentilla spp.), worm weeds (Artemesia spp.), Bistorta spp. and Agrostis spp. The meadows on valley bottoms are dominated by sedges, namely Carex spp. and Koresia spp.
Most of the endangered species of Ladakh have their home in Hemis. Some 11 species have been recorded, including wolf (Canis lupus), Pallas' cat (Felis manul), snow leopard (Panthera uncia), ibex (Capra ibex), bharal (Pseudois nayaur), Tibetan argali (Ovis ammon hodgsoni) and Ladakh urial (Orientalis vignei). Some snow leopards have also been recorded in the national park. There is a good population of bharal and urial in the park, as well as some ibex west of the Zanskar River.
Around 30 species of avifauna have been identified in the park, including Himalayan snowcock (Tetraogallus himalayensis) and chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar).
The famed monastery of Hemis is tucked away among rocks and concealing poplars inside the Hemis National Park. There are a number of shrines around the great courtyard, all of them of considerable interest. Some scholars even believe that Hemis holds ancient documents which speak of the hidden years of Jesus Christ. Hemis, however, it best known to tourists because of its colorful festival held in July. At this time, monks perform their traditional dances to celebrate the birth anniversary of the monastery's founder, Padmasambhava.
Leh is one of the favorite tourist destinations located in the northernmost parts of the country. Lapped in the snow-covered fringes of the Himalayas, Leh has been the center of Tibeto-Buddhist culture since ages. Its colorful gompas have attracted the devout Buddhists from all over the globe. Besides, it is also a favorite hiking locale and is known for some of the best hikes in the country. The main attractions in Leh are the Leh Palace, Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, Victory Tower, Shankar Gompa, Shanti Stupa, Soma Gompa, and a mosque constructed by Aurangzeb.
The nearest airport is Leh, which is connected by Indian Airlines to Delhi, Chandigarh, Srinagar, and Jammu.
The nearest railhead is Jammu, situated at a distance of around 690 km. Jammu is connected to all parts of India.
The Leh-Srinagar National Highway officially opens from May 15 to November 15 every year (depending on weather condition). The distances of some important destinations from Leh by road are: Srinagar, 434 km; Kargil, 230 km; Manali, 497 km; and Keylong, 380 km.
The Jammu Kashmir Road Transport Corporation operates buses between Srinagar and Leh.